Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Smell of Rain

As I walked home from school one day. I was followed by a darkening sky and strengthening breeze-an approaching storm. The thick, black, velvet curtain was suddenly drawn across the sky behind me. "Can I make it home?" I made it only half way before I was caught in the rain. I love the rain and took a mental image-amazed by its many faces. Sometimes you can feel the rain coming and sometimes you can smell it. This is one of those times when the native smell of dessicated air is gradually replaced just before the storm. As I mulled over how to describe this image. These words gave life to what I saw and smelled.

The Smell of Rain

This land where water is scarce and the
pungent odor of dust rises up your nostrils
like the smell of empty grain sacks.
Stiff dry plants crackled under foot -
the browns of life wanting - filled the vast expanse.

Always a hint of grit in your teeth,
ever-drifting sands prowl looking for respite,
anchored only when slowed by some tenacious plant
somehow clinging to this land like a weathered homestead.

The hope of rain is eternal -
clouds carried by need and fervent prayer often build
and sail on without a single tear.
In this land rain is more precious than gold,
distant clouds black with rain drifted in with the promise of life.

Before she arrived, a cool assurance piqued my interest
as I stood and faced the wind and willed it forward.
The breeze delivered the welcome message -
the smell of rain approached - slow on turtle's feet.
This sun-baked land now drank deeply and grasped at her passing skirt.
As I walked, I now could smell the wet earth
alive with energy released by soaking rain.

The smell of life, of wet rain-filled soil
are better medicine than rest.
Each passing storm with hope and longing, taunts my memory,
and conjures up the image of the prairie alive with oceans of green,
sprinkled with constellations of blazing color.

The smell of rain proves this is no mirage -
but an awakening of the senses, and the earth.
Growth and hope are as secure in this land
as the unyielding plants that breathed deeply of the smell of rain.

Plover Lover
May 7, 2009

Another School Year Is Over

So busy, that is all that can be said as any school year comes to a close. Final everything, final concert, final trips, final games, meets, tests, and graduation. All were a success in their own way.

My first year in Karval was a success and a great welcoming. I welcomed spring and warm weather. I welcomed planting the garden to the song of birds. I look forward to time to do yard work, study, plan, make curriculum, write poetry, read, bird watch, sing, hike, and play. It is finally here and first on the list- rest and get the garden in. Now that I have time, the home list continues to grow faster than the garden weeds. I am excited to have the summer to get things done one task at a time. It is wonderful to be a teacher and have time to get ready for the next year and reflect on the past.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mountain Plover- Dreams

As the season transforms itself from spring, the call of the Mountain Plover is heard less often. The now familiar sound still brings me to attention. I hope to see the flight display again. It is hard to put into words the feelings one gets seeing something unusual and rare. It is like finding a buried treasure or climbing a mountain peak. The scene just can't be described, only experienced. The Falling Leaf Display, as it is called, is performed over the nesting grounds. The male flies into the air, plummets with wings held in a tight "V", and drifts back to earth. This repeated dance is accompanied by the call that echoes across the prairie as to say, "Whee, here I come... look at meee!" Oh, the things we will do to impress our lady friends. In a time of anticipation, I penned these words, hoping the real event would be as vivid as my imagination. They remind me of finding my own treasure and the crystal clear view standing on the mountain peak.

The Mountain Plover

From falling leaf to falling leaf
how strange it was…
I saw the plover flying near
up, up - on powerful wings they flew

So high its ascent,
almost beyond sight
then in an instant tumbled
down, down - as a wind-blown leaf might do

Then up again to higher points
it all began again
feathers ruffled, he plummeted
Swiftly, swiftly he blew

And many a hidden secret told
by the pattern of wing and tilt
what purple, what gems displayed for her
below, below - he knew

October 2008
Plover Lover

SBJ'S- Small Brown Jobs! Who Am I?

As I sat in my car on the far side of Karval lake a small visitor came and posed for me. I took several pictures and found him a challenge to Identify. Much smaller than the White-Crowned Sparrows that were in the Salt-Cedars with him. He had distinct markings on his face, and back. The streaked crown and color on the back ruled out Chipping Sparrow for me. The noticeable facial pattern made me question Brewer's Sparrow. They seem to have a less distinctively marked faces. Could this be a Clay-Colored Sparrow? Experts out there get out your field guides and give our SBJ a name. By the way his song was a low buzz of two to four syllables, much lower pitched than Chipping Sparrows.

Chip Clouse-American Birding Association

CO birders,
Apologies for the late post.
The 3rd annual Mountain Plover Festival took place in Karval, Lincoln County, CO this past weekend. Beginning with dinner and an evening bird tour on Friday and ending with breakfast, another tour and then lunch on Sunday, the festival was a big hit. The folks of Karval really rolled out the red carpet for their out-of-town visitors. Saturday featured three meals, two bird tours, and fabulous entertainment on Saturday night. There were vendors selling their wares, a photography contest with wonderful prizes, and a silent auction that left me with a much lighter wallet! The weather was a bit nippy in the mornings but the wildlife was well worth it. Bird guides included Seth Gallagher from RMBO, Katy Fitzgerald from USFWS, Ken Morgan and John Koshak from CDOW, and yours truly. Local guides included Dan Merewether, Carl Stogsdill, Russell Davis, Jeff Thornton, Mark Carling and Steve Bailey. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out! Check out the Karval Community Alliance website at and science teacher Mark Carling’s Karval Birding Blog, at Both sites feature some photos from the fantastic weekend. The Fri & Sat bird list is on Mark’s blog and the complete list including Sunday is posted below.

Wood Duck – Sun only (female only)
Gadwall – Sun
Blue-winged Teal – Sun
Northern Shoveler – Sun
Hooded Merganser - Sun
Ruddy Duck
Eared Grebe - Sun
Western Grebe – some displaying was observed
Double-crested Cormorant – Sun
White-faced Ibis
Northern Harrier – check out Mark’s post on the displaying male on Saturday
Swainson's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk – Sun
Golden Eagle - Sun
American Kestrel
American Coot
Sandhill Crane – Sun (a one-legged bird with an obvious stump. It was hopping, feeding, and flying OK though)
Killdeer – broken wing display and nest found at Karval Lake
Mountain Plover – nice displays from one bird in particular on Sat morning
Spotted Sandpiper
Dowitcher spp. – Sun (too far for definite ID to species)
Wilson’s Phalarope – Sun
Black Tern – Sun (probable but not confirmed - 2 seen only by me as they were flying away)
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Great-Horned Owl
Burrowing Owl
Long-eared Owl – Sun (very cooperative and the second best bird of the festival)
Northern Flicker
Say's Phoebe
Cassin’s Kingbird - Sun
Western Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
American Crow - Sun
Horned Lark
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Rock Wren
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler-both Myrtle & Audubon
Summer Tanager – Sun (nice male and probably the best festival bird, except for Mtn Plovers, of course)
Green-tailed Towhee
Spotted Towhee
Cassin’s Sparrow - Sun
Chipping Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-Headed Cowbird
House Finch
House Sparrow

67 species – I made a stop back at Karval Lake after lunch on Sunday and added Great Egret, then down at Jeff Thornton’s family property, where I saw a male Lark Bunting and a Black-crowned Night Heron. My goal was 70 and I hit the nail on the head.

Tell your friends about this great little festival and come check it out next April. You won’t be sorry!

Chip Clouse
Outreach Coordinator
Birders’ Exchange Coordinator

American Birding Association
4945 N 30th Street, Suite 200
Colorado Springs, CO 80919-3151

Friday, May 8, 2009

Somebody's Knocking

This is one of the strangest things that I have seen. Our resident Northern Mockingbird seems to want in to the kitchen. Over and over again he attacks the window. So my wife captured it on film. I think he is seeing a reflection of a rival and wants to maintain his territory. At any rate he is making a mess of the window. Birds do the strangest things.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Week of Photo Friendly Birds

Here are some of the week's photos. I have to say the birds were very cooperative. I have so much to write and so little time with the end of school events and yard work. I must admit I am getting little yard work done.

Northern Mockingbird attacking the kitchen window.

Cassin's Kingbird showing his colors in the early morning light.

Lark Sparrow in the yard.

Robin's nest with a new family underway.

Pine Siskin watching a very strange birder.

Orange-Crowned Warbler at Karval lake with several of his friends.

Lark Bunting finally stopped long enough for a photo op.

Flying Burrowing Owl
Wait! Just a minute for the shutter to close. Too, Late.

Burrowing Owl waiting for me to take the photo.

Lark Bunting Chorus lined up for the group photos.

Cassin's Kingbird was waiting for me to see that he was not the Western Kingbird that I thought I was seeing.

Sage Thrasher at Karval Lake kept me chasing him down the fence line before I snapped this.

Double-Crested Cormorant on Karval Lake.

Common Grackle with nesting material in down- town Karval. What a noise they can make.

Chipping Sparrow in trees near abandoned home.